YOUNG STAND-OFF Joe Sanderson has an opportunity to show Leeds Rhinos what they are missing.
Sanderson will make his second appearance for Hunslet – and home debut – when Rhinos visit South Leeds Stadium tomorrow for the newly-named Harry Jepson OBE Memorial Cup.
Sanderson, who will be 20 in March, joined Hunslet last October after becoming too old for Leeds’ academy side, though he has a foot in both camps as a development officer for Rhinos’ Foundation.
Leeds’ management feel Sanderson is not yet ready to go full-time at Super League level, but say they will be keeping a close eye on his progress with Hunslet.
A product of the Drighlington community club, Sanderson scored 13 tries and 102 goals – with an 88 per cent success rate – in 19 appearances for Rhinos’ under-19s last year. It is a big step up to open-age rugby, but tomorrow is a chance for the talented youngster to catch the eye of both coaching teams and give Hunslet fans an indication of what they can expect from him in Kingstone Press League One.
“It will be a bit strange,” said Sanderson, who was at stand-off for Leeds in last year’s 22-18 pre-season win at Hunslet.
“Obviously I know most of the [Leeds] lads and it will be a tough game, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
Hunslet’s preparations began six days ago when they were beaten 52-6 at Championship side Featherstone Rovers.
“I am learning from some new coaches and learning a lot of new stuff,” Sanderson said of his change of club.
“It is a big step up, that showed last week.
“It will take a couple of weeks to step up, but that will come.
“The more game time I get and the more experience, the more I’ll get used to it.”
Sanderson had little chance to display his skills against Rovers as Hunslet spent much of the game on defence.
“They are a big side and we couldn’t really get on the front foot and get hold of the ball,” he said.
“I thought for the first 20-30 minutes we were matching them and we defended really well, but obviously they are a Championship side and they were much bigger.
“We had too much defending to do, but we are a new side and it’s going to take us a couple of weeks to gel, but we will get it right.”
Tomorrow, against a young Leeds team, will be a fairer test for Hunslet.
Sanderson said: “Hopefully we’ll get a lot more ball and show what we can do with it.
“Hopefully we’ll have a decent crack and get a good result.”
Hunslet, relegated at the end of 2015, finished seventh in League One last year and are rebuilding under new coach James Coyle and his assistant Steve Deakin.
Sanderson reckons they are capable of a top-four finish in a competition which is expected to be dominated by newcomers Toronto Wolfpack, who Hunslet visit in May.
“I think we’ve got a good chance this year,” he predicted. “It’s going to be good playing in Toronto. It’s a new set-up so we don’t know what to expect, but going to Canada is part of the experience.
“Playing against them will be good, to see what it’s like over there, playing in different conditions.”
Toronto have hopes of rising through the ranks to Super League and Sanderson has similar ambitions.
“I want to see this year out and get a good year under my belt,” he said. “I would like to work my way back up to Super League and show I can match that.”
Sanderson’s role with Rhinos’ Foundation – working in schools and encouraging children to join local amateur rugby league clubs – means he remains involved in Leeds’ organisation, and he said: “I’m still around the players and coaches and I can talk to them and get ideas and experience.